Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed strong support for Armenia on Sunday and condemned “illegal and deadly attacks by Azerbaijan” on its neighbor, openly taking sides in a dispute where American officials have been careful to mediate discreetly.
“This was initiated by the Azeris,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference during her visit to Armenia. “There has to be recognition of that.”
Ms. Pelosi traveled to Armenia to meet with the country’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, after fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted last week, resulting in the deaths of more than 180 people.
Each side has accused the other of provoking the clashes, which broke out on Tuesday. They have been locked in an armed standoff over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades and fought a war over it in 2020 that left thousands dead. Azerbaijan took a further step in the latest fighting, however, attacking targets and entering Armenia’s internationally recognized borders for the first time, analysts said.
Ms. Pelosi said that she wanted to convey “the strong and ongoing support of the United States” for Armenia but also called for a negotiated settlement.
In a statement published on Sunday, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Ms. Pelosi’s remarks as “groundless and unfair,” and “a serious blow to efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
The clashes were the biggest escalation in the conflict since a truce brokered in 2020 by Russia, a longtime protector of Armenia. Analysts said Azerbaijan might have been emboldened by the recent setbacks of Russia in Ukraine and in general by Russia’s focus on the war there.
Azerbaijan has recently pushed Mr. Pashinyan to sign a peace deal that would recognize Azeri sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but closely allied to Armenia and claims independence.
Mr. Pashinyan has said that he intends to agree to a deal. His opponents inside Armenia have described the idea as treasonous.
The Armenian government said that it appealed to Russia to resolve the situation last week, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had brokered a cease-fire within hours on Tuesday, and called on both sides respect the 2020 agreements.
Ms. Pelosi said that the recent attack “threatens prospects for a much needed peace agreement,” and that there could be no military solution to the conflict.
Ms. Pelosi, the highest-ranking American official to visit Armenia since it became independent three decades ago, said the trip had been planned since before the “assault on the border of Armenia” took place.
The congressional delegation she led to to the country was a “a powerful symbol of the United States’ firm commitment to a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Armenia, and a stable and secure Caucasus region,” she wrote on Twitter before her trip.
Representative Frank Pallone, Democrat of New Jersey, who was traveling with Ms. Pelosi, added his concern. “The United States is very concerned about Armenia’s security and we want to do whatever we can to be more supportive of Armenia’s security,” he said.
Last year, President Biden described the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago as genocide, a characterization that Turkey has long pushed against.
Traveling into a zone of international tension is not a new experience for Ms. Pelosi. Her itinerary this summer included Kyiv, Ukraine, as well as a visit to Taiwan, to which China responded with days of large-scale military exercises.
This time, Ms. Pelosi said the United States wanted to help and support Armenia in what she described as part of a global struggle between democracy and autocracy.
“Territorial security and sovereignty of Armenia, the democracy of Armenia, is a value to us in America,” she said.